There is a great deal of evidence showing the capacity of physical exercise to enhance cognitive function, reduce anxiety and depression, and protect the brain against neurodegenerative disorders. Although the effects of exercise are well documented in the mature brain, the influence of exercise in the developing brain has been poorly explored. Therefore, we investigated the morphological and functional hippocampal changes in adult rats submitted to daily treadmill exercise during the adolescent period. Male Wistar rats aged 21 postnatal days old (P21) were divided into two groups: exercise and control. Animals in the exercise group were submitted to daily exercise on the treadmill between P21 and P60. Running time and speed gradually increased over this period, reaching a maximum of 18 m/min for 60 min. After the aerobic exercise program (P60), histological and behavioral (water maze) analyses were performed. The results show that early-life exercise increased mossy fibers density and hippocampal expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and its receptor tropomyosin-related kinase B, improved spatial learning and memory, and enhanced capacity to evoke spatial memories in later stages (when measured at P96). It is important to point out that while physical exercise induces hippocampal plasticity, degenerative effects could appear in undue conditions of physical or psychological stress. In this regard, we also showed that the exercise protocol used here did not induce inflammatory response and degenerating neurons in the hippocampal formation of developing rats. Our findings demonstrate that physical exercise during postnatal development results in positive changes for the hippocampal formation, both in structure and function. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.